BlackBerry 10 Could Be RIM's Savior
If developers are drawn to BlackBerry 10, RIM just might have a chance to get back into the smartphone game. The company has been flailing badly over the past few years, but it still has a strong enterprise base. "RIM needs to create a device that can allow people to be productive with their own handsets and require less IT support," said iSuppli analyst Wayne Lam. "This is a game for BlackBerry to win or lose."
Research In Motion officially unveiled new BlackBerry software Tuesday at the company's annual conference for developers, corporate customers and the media. President and CEO Thorsten Heins took the stage at BlackBerryWorld 2012 in Orlando, Fla., to officially introduce the new operating system to developers.
While it has been in closed tests with a very select group of developers for months, the BlackBerry 10 software will now be made available to all developers. RIM did not offer any BlackBerry 10 hardware, but Heins emphasized that the new handsets will arrive later this year.
"The whole company is laser-focused on its development. We're making incredible progress on BlackBerry 10," Heins said in his keynote at the conference. "You can see the detail that we are putting into this platform."
BlackBerry World View
Much attention is on RIM today, but as Heins noted, the devices won't arrive until later this year -- possibly as early as August, but likely later in the second half of 2012.
"This is really not a layperson event, but it is being watched closely," Wayne Lam, senior analyst of wireless communications at IHS iSuppli, told TechNewsWorld. "RIM has publicly said that they'll have their next-generation platform out by early 2012. Obviously, that isn't going to happen and hasn't happened, so it will be the end of the year before we see something."
This week's conference is about remaining pertinent in the mobile handset space and staying in the news in advance of next week's CTIA Wireless 2012 tradeshow taking place in New Orleans.
"The purpose of this week's event is to keep the development community engaged with the current BlackBerry platform," added Lam. "They need to reaffirm that, BlackBerry 10 is not that far off and to keep the excitement building. For them it is about keeping the party going, so to speak."
Game Saver for RIM
With consumer versions still months away, what have been seen to date are the BlackBerry 10 reference devices, which have been provided to developers to test new applications using the new operating system. RIM has stressed that these devices will never be sold commercially, but they could be game changers -- even game savers -- for the company. Notably, they feature virtual keyboards instead of the physical QWERTY keypad that comes standard on most BlackBerry devices.
The shift to a virtual keypad may be seen as a move to make the new handsets closer in design to the iPhone or Android devices. Of course, many BlackBerry users may prefer the physical keypad, but most may be in agreement that other aspects of RIM's devices need updating.
"BlackBerry has a couple of problems: It doesn't have many apps, and the browser stinks," said telecommunications analyst Jeff Kagan, "It has a browser that is 10 years old, and while it is been updated, it still has many problems."
These two issues are what desperately need to be fixed, stressed Kagan -- and with apps, RIM is listening.
"The platform has been built to give developers the ability to create amazing content and a great user experience. The support and excitement we already see from developers is both rewarding and encouraging," said Martyn Mallick, vice president, global alliances and business development at RIM. "We are hearing every day from partners who want to start building and showcasing their work on BlackBerry 10."
Carriers Want and Need RIM
The mobile marketplace has become volatile, with companies such as RIM and Nokia losing ground to Apple, Google and Samsung.
"The wireless marketplace has been changing for the last five years, especially since Apple entered the marketplace and changed it completely," Kagan told TechNewsWorld. "In that time, Apple has been very arrogant with the carriers, charging higher rates to carry the phone to the point that could bankrupt some carriers, as we've seen with Sprint."
For this reason, the carriers desperately want to take the sting out of what the marketplace has become with more handset choices for consumers, Kagan emphasized.
"The carriers really want more than just two options -- Apple and Google," he said.
With the right device, RIM could certainly regain its lost market share, in Kagan's view.
"BlackBerry has a good brand name, and the company has very good customer reputation, so it would be very easy to get the carriers behind them," he said. "If I understand it, why don't they? This is not that complicated."
RIM Isn't Palm
What is unlikely to happen is RIM becoming the next Palm. RIM has a chance to become very relevant again with its upcoming BlackBerry 10 handset, but not if it loses sight of its core business with enterprise users, noted iSuppli's Lam.
"Palm went away, but that was a different case," he said. "That company was very consumer-driven, where BlackBerry has risen with the enterprise, and it is still doing reasonably well with its services."
Where the BlackBerry is further threatened is in the changing acceptance of handsets the IT department will allow employees to use as a "work" device.
"As the BYOD, or bring your own device to work, option has been accepted, it has forced IT managers and corporations to change their policies on what handsets workers can use," said Lam. "RIM needs to create a device that can allow people to be productive with their own handsets and require less IT support. This is a game for BlackBerry to win or lose."